Facing criticism for compromising with the city over the controversial Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP), Fred Wright, the first African American president of the city’s union for white-collar workers, declined to seek reelection and has been replaced by his predecessor and rival Cathy Scott.
After a six-year run as head of the 6,000-member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 47, Wright said Thursday that he was stepping down to spend more time with his family. But he acknowledged that opposition to him had been mounting over a 2016 settlement he reached with Mayor Jim Kenney’s administration that effectively lowered payments from DROP, the widely criticized program that allows city workers in the last four years of their careers to simultaneously receive salaries and accrue pension benefits.
Wright blamed the criticism of his tenure on Scott, whom he ousted in a contentious election in 2013 during a years-long contract standoff with then-Mayor Michael Nutter’s administration, and said race played a role for those who opposed him.
“They resented my being elected in the first place, the first African American to run D.C. 47,” Wright said. “Race has always been a factor down here.”
Scott won the post Thursday night by defeating Jose Martinez of the First Judicial District workers’ Local 810 by more than 1,500 votes out of almost 6,000 cast. She had objected to Wright’s comments and said her opposition to him was based on his failure to get buy-in for significant decisions.
“The vast majority of the delegates who voted last night are minority, so I think that’s an unfortunate comment for former president Wright to make,” she said Friday. “There has been and are contentions with the members [including] his failure to put changes he was signing off on with the city to a vote of the membership.”
Scott’s Local 2187, which represents professional, technical, and administrative employees for the city, the Parking Authority, and the Housing Authority, complained to AFSCME’s main office about Wright’s failure to let members vote on the DROP settlement, resulting in a 2017 reprimand of Wright from the international. The settlement changed the interest rate at which the pension accruals grow during the four-year DROP period from 4.5% to the yield of a one-year U.S. Treasury bond, which has not been higher than 4% since 2007.
Scott’s return to the presidency comes as D.C. 47 and the city’s other big three municipal unions prepare to negotiate new collective bargaining agreements next year. About 4,000 of the union’s members work for the city or related government offices.